Closing remarks by Angel Gurría
30 October 2019 - OECD, Paris
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to close the 4th Business at the OECD Forum on Health “Achieving the SDGs on health, innovation & partnerships”. I would like to thank the BIAC Secretary-General, Russel Mills, and his team for their efforts to organise this Forum.
With slightly over a decade to go, achieving the SDGs requires all hands on deck. Looking at the SDG health goals in particular, progress has been frustratingly slow. Our report ‘Measuring Distance to the SDG Targets’ shows that more than one third of OECD countries have been moving away from their 2030 targets pertaining to obesity and vaccination coverage in recent years.
There are many areas in health where truly transformative change could take place if public and private actors joined forces to accelerate progress towards the SDGs. Let me provide some examples.
First, universal health coverage (UHC). An important momentum towards achieving universal health coverage has been building – as we saw at the High-Level Meeting on UHC at the UN General Assembly last month. But it is clear that the gaps in access to high-quality care can’t be filled by the public sector alone. Co-ordinated, multi-stakeholder partnerships remain critical.
Public-private partnerships can help meet the growing demand for healthcare, with appropriate regulation, and careful design. This includes areas in which progress has been slower, such as access to cancer treatment. One example comes from the partnerships that the Roche pharmaceutical company has set up with private insurers and governmental health authorities, for example in China and Dubai.
Moreover, in Latin America, public-private partnerships have been an important tool to leverage private investment to renovate public hospital infrastructure or expand access to specialised diagnostic care, with successful examples in Chile, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, and Colombia.
A second area where public-private can make a contribution is in health R&D. The pharmaceutical sector can play a key role in developing and delivering critical innovations in health. Just think of the progress we’ve made in tackling HIV/AIDS, or even more recently Hepatitis C. Or take antimicrobial resistance. We urgently need better public-private co-operation to develop new antibiotics and reactivate the R&D pipeline.
Failure to do this means a bleak future – as our report ‘Stemming the Superbug Tide’ found. Heightened resistance could cost the lives of around 2.4 million people in Europe, North America and Australia between 2015 and 2050. And a short-term investment of just a few dollars more would stem the superbug tide and save money and lives. Bringing new medicines and technologies to the market, however, is not enough. We also need to make them affordable and accessible to all those who need them.
A third critical area is the fight against obesity. Our recent report ‘The Heavy Burden of Obesity’ shows that nearly one in four adults in OECD countries is now obese. And one of the main drivers of this epidemic is the environment that we live in, which too often makes unhealthy food the cheapest and, in many cases, the only available option.
Many of the efforts that are paramount to reducing obesity – such as reformulating foods – need to be made in partnership with industry. In Australia, for example, the government is working with the private sector to develop reformulation targets. In Spain, a reformulation action started in 2016 now involves 20 agreements with food sector associations.
And fourth, businesses have a key role to play to promote workers’ health. Each year, 2.78 million workers die from work-related accidents and diseases, and an additional 374 million workers suffer from non-fatal occupational accidents. At the global level, lost work-days represent almost 4 per cent of world’s GDP, a share that rises to 6 per cent or more in some countries.
Investing in workers’ health is a win-win. Boosting the quality of the working environment can improve workers’ physical and mental health and raise productivity, which is good for society and for business.
One key tool to foster the contribution of the private sector in achieving the SDG targets on health are digital technologies.
Take Artificial Intelligence (AI) for example. AI today is leveraging rich datasets, such as health records, to offer precision medicine, as well as automating experiments for faster scientific discovery. It also complements human skills in diagnosing cancer and other diseases.
Despite these opportunities, health systems are not doing enough to truly harness this promise. The private and public sectors must work together on several fronts to realise the full benefits of digital technologies.
For example, it is critical to ensure that people’s personal data are kept secure and used for agreed purposes. It is also important to adopt common data systems so that these can be shared across sectors and borders. In addition, we need to step up our efforts to use digital technology to reduce health inequalities, and to ensure that the health workforce has the skills needed to work in this new environment.
The OECD has been working with governments, the private sector, civil society, academia and key stakeholders to accelerate progress towards the SDGs.
A few months ago, at the G7 Summit in Biarritz, we launched the Business for Inclusive Growth (B4IG) coalition, which gathers 34 leading multinationals committed to inclusive growth.
The coalition signed a Business Pledge against inequalities, including health inequalities. Companies joining forces are investing a combined total of over 1 billion US dollars in more than 50 current and future initiatives! This is the power of multi-stakeholder partnerships.
Moreover, in June 2018, under the Argentine G20 Presidency, we organised a joint seminar bringing together experts and stakeholders to focus on obesity. We discussed the importance of creating a health-promoting environment and how we can “nudge” consumers towards healthier choices.
The seminar also explored the potential for G20-wide action on food product improvement. There was particular support in promoting an ambitious G20/B20-wide commitment to address obesity through collaboration between governments and industry.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We’re still far from reaching the SDG health targets. And we will not get there unless we act in a concerted manner. This means all stakeholders who can make a difference must work together.
So thank you for engaging in this important conversation today. Let us all join forces to deliver the SDGs and promote better health policies for better lives.